Friday, July 29, 2011

71 years ago

This rosy-cheeked young man is 27-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Ted Bates of Guelph, Ontario. On Dec. 12, 1940, he was sent up on a training flight with his copilot Peter Campbell, a 24-year-old from Sussex, England. It was the last time they were heard from. They ascended into blizzard conditions and were later turning toward the airport to refuel their Nomad 3521 when they collided with another RCAF plane. Both planes went down. A massive aerial search was mustered the following day from their base at Borden. The bodies of the pilots of the 2nd plane - L. Francis of Glamorgan, Wales, and W.P. Gosling of Edmonton, Alberta - were recovered, but Campbell and Bates were never found, despite 50 aircraft searching from Georgian Bay to Sudbury to Trenton. The only clue to the crash was an oil slick on the surface of Lake Muskoka, but despite dragging it and sending a diver down multiple times over the next several weeks, the RCAF could find neither the bodies nor the other plane. World War II raged on, and the families' questions remained unanswered.

In 2004, the Lost Airmen of Muskoka Project (LAMP) was established to investigate more than a dozen known WWII-era crash sites in the area. Founders Al Bacon, Matt Fairbrass, and Don Ruud renewed the search for the men whose graves are marked as "unknown" on the Commonwealth Air Force Memorial on Green Island, Ottawa. This is our honour and our duty. These were our servicemen and they’re heroes as far as I’m concerned,” said Bacon. The team researched archival records, reviewed eyewitness accounts, and used side-scan sonar technology in the lake to narrow the possible location of the missing plane. The Ontario Provincial Police sent divers down who made the discovery on Wednesday. The remains of the pilots were not found, and may not be recoverable, but the divers did locate artifacts and personal effects. Police have contacted next-of-kin - Campbell’s nephew in Montreal and Bates’ brother (who was 14 at the time of the accident) in Guelph. “We’re not sure whether the plane will come up or not,” said Bacon, but the members of LAMP have solved the 71-year-old mystery.

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